SYCAMORE – Consol Energy Inc. dedicated its new mammoth coal mine Tuesday, christening the $700 million project with a new name, in honor of its executive chairman, J. Brett Harvey.
During ceremonies at the mine’s Patterson Creek Portal in Greene County, company officials also celebrated 150 years in the energy business with a luncheon for mine employees, as well as state and local officials.
Until Tuesday, Consol had designated the new mine as the BMX Mine, which opened in March. It combines the operations of the Bailey and Enlow Fork mines and is the largest underground mine in North America.
Jimmy Brock, chief operating officer for Consol’s coal division, said the Harvey Mine processes 10,000 tons per hour, filling between nine and 10 100-car trains per day.
“I believe our best production years lie ahead of us,” said Brock, noting that the mine employs 2,500 people.
Consol Chief Executive Officer Nick DeIuliis, said Harvey, who became Consol’s CEO in the late 1990s and served in that capacity until May, when he was elected executive chairman of the board, deserved to have his name permanently associated with the mine because he oversaw the planning and development of the $700 million project, which began in 2009.
The project was one of several, including Harvey’s insistence that safety be put first in its operations, that led to Consol becoming a premier energy company, he said.
DeIuliis, who noted that it was Harvey’s “vision and strong leadership” over the course of the past 16 years that “positioned Consol for the next 150 years.”
In accepting the honor, which also included a plaque bearing his likeness, Harvey was more modest in assessing his long-term vision for the company’s future, which also included updating its longtime participation in natural gas extraction to expand into the Marcellus Shale.
“We’ve transformed the company to last another 50 years,” he said, adding that he was unwilling to speculate beyond that time frame.
It was another CEO, Andy Masich of the Senator John Heinz History Center, who provided a historical perspective on Consol’s 150 years in business, noting that the energy company began in 1864, while the Civil War was still being fought.
It was Pennsylvania’s coal mines, including those of Consol, Masich told the audience, that made it possible to manufacture armaments, run the railroads and fuel the navy that helped the Union to win the war.
Consol’s mine dedication came less than a month after the Environmental Protection Agency released new proposed regulations that would place more stringent requirements on coal-burning power plants across the U.S.
But company officials on Tuesday were resolute that coal will remain a substantial part of America’s energy portfolio.
“The energy we produce is red, white and blue,” Harvey said.
“I believe there’s always going to be a market for coal-fired generation,” said Brock, who acknowledged that it remains to be seen what percentage of the energy mix coal will have in the future.
Brock and other executives also noted that the new mine contains the Underground Training Academy, a one-of-a-kind teaching facility in the mining industry that instructs mine employees on the actual equipment they’ll use at work.
Chris Abruzzo, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, who was guest speaker at Tuesday’s event, told the audience that in 2013, Pennsylvania mines produced 66 million tons of coal with a workforce of 14,000. According to Abruzzo, the commonwealth is the fourth-highest producer of coal and Greene County is the second highest-producing county in the country.
He said coal contributes $4.1 billion to the state’s gross domestic product.
From DEP’s perspective, Abruzzo said, mine safety in Pennsylvania is “world-class.”
“We very seldom have lost-time accidents and have had no fatalities for the past five years.”
He noted that DEP’s staff conducted more than 20,000 mine inspections last year and conducts training sessions for miners across the state.
Abruzzo told reporters following the dedication that DEP is still studying the full intent of EPA’s proposed rules regarding coal-fired plants, which may take up to three years to enact.
Most important, Abruzzo added, is what the proposed rules mean to energy-producing states like Pennsylvania.
“When the EPA talks about flexibility, it’s not the flexibility that power generating companies are talking about,” he said.
Noting that the EPA proposals would have Pennsylvania achieving a 42 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030, Abruzzo said he believes energy-producing states will seek ways to find a balance between compliance and what it will cost to meet the requirement.